State Commerce Department Warns Against ‘Next Big Thing’ Scams

PRESS RELEASE from the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, Nov. 9, 2015:

TN Securities Division Cautions Investors About ‘The Next Big Thing’

News Making Products Like Marijuana-Related Investments, Binary Options and Digital Currency Should Draw Investor Scrutiny

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance’s (TDCI) Securities Division today issued an advisory reminding investors to be cautious when considering investing in three products recently making news: Marijuana-related investments, binary options and digital currency. The advisory can be found on the Securities Division’s website.

“At first glance, these products appear to have no real connection to one another,” said Frank Borger-Gilligan, Assistant Commissioner for the Tennessee Securities Division. “But what they all have in common is their recent emergence as three investments that both sellers and buyers hope will become the ‘next big thing.’ Before you consider investing, make sure you understand what these products are, their benefits, and their risks.”

The advisory includes information to help investors better understand each of these products, including their risks.

Marijuana investments. As more jurisdictions clarify their legal definitions on the growth and use of medical and recreational marijuana, an increasing number of companies focused on the marijuana industry are seeking funds from investors. “Marijuana investment opportunities could be particularly susceptible to scams, such as ‘pump-and-dump,’ in which promoters use misinformation to pressure investors to get in on the ‘ground floor’ thereby inflating the company’s share prices before being sold by the promoters,” Borger-Gilligan said.

Binary option contract. A binary option contract is based on the investor’s prediction of an underlying security’s value at a predetermined date. There are only two possible outcomes: the investor may receive a fixed amount of money for guessing correctly, or lose the entire investment for guessing incorrectly. “Binary options are simplified options contracts that look more like online gambling than a traditional security or investment,” Borger-Gilligan said.

Digital currency. Bitcoin and other digital currency remain in the headlines as new exchanges emerge claiming to be licensed and regulated by federal, state, or jurisdictional financial authorities and a growing number of brand-name retailers accepting digital currency as payment for goods and services. “Since different countries and jurisdictions have little uniformity on how Bitcoin and digital currency is regulated, scammers will take advantage of the confusion and contradictions to misinform potential investors,” Borger-Gilligan said.

“The bottom line is that before making any decisions with your money, ask questions, make sure you understand the risks, and check with the Tennessee Securities Division before you invest,” Borger-Gilligan said.

The Tennessee Securities Division can be contacted at (615) 741-2947 or online at Securities1@tn.gov.

About the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance: TDCI is charged with protecting the interests of consumers while providing fair, efficient oversight and a level field of competition for a broad array of industries and professionals doing business in Tennessee. Our divisions include the Athletic Commission, Consumer Affairs, Tennessee Corrections Institute, Emergency Communications Board, Fire Prevention, Insurance, Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy, Peace Officers Standards and Training, Regulatory Boards, Securities, and TennCare Oversight.